Friday, August 19, 2011

First Day of School

Ah, the first day of school. Most readers can relate to this, either via memories or experiencing it first hand. You meet new people, learn a new routine of classes and a daily schedule of buses, classes, study time and possibly sports or band or choir. For this reason, it's not uncommon for a number of young adult or middle grade stories to start with the first day of school. This is a convenient way for the reader to learn about this new world along with the character.

The experience isn't limited to only elementary and high school, though. For example, this week has been Welcome Week at Winona State University. It's the week when first year students (freshmen) move into their dorm rooms and figure out the various buildings on campus before the rest of the students arrive next week for the first day of classes.

Establishing when the first day of school is is something that can be played with. Elementary and high schools in the Midwest US often start in late August/early September after Labor Day. But the start of school can be different in other parts of the country, not to mention the world. But what if your character is home-schooled? Or attends a year-round school?

When would the first day of school be in the early colonies? Or on the frontier (and which frontier - the Appalachians, the Mississippi River or beyond)? If you're writing a science fiction story, what would the first day of school be like on a space station, a generation ship or on a colony planet?

We've seen one version of a magical school in the Harry Potter books. But there have been many other schools of wizardry and magic in books before then, as well as after. Rowling's books had mostly human students. In other schools your classmates could be elves or vampires or even griffins.

Patricia Wrede's Frontier Magic series has a fascinating mixture of frontier (where the frontier is the Mississippi River in an alternate Minnesota) school and magic classes. Jennifer St. Clair's Jacob Lane series is set in present day (the school library just got computers) and humans, elves, Hounds of the Wild Hunt, dragons, ghosts and vampires are classmates and friends.

What are some of your favorite school-based books? If you write school-based stories, do you like starting with the first day of school, the holidays, or when?

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